Some weeks ago my phone rang and it was a computer call inviting me to participate in a telephone “Town Hall” meeting on public education. In addition to callers, the telephone town hall meeting included representatives from the Ohio Department of Education as well as other education experts and local school systems’ administrators from right here in the Miami Valley and around the state to include Columbus and Cincinnati.

I stayed on the line and placed my name in the que to voice some opinions and ask a couple of questions. I told the receptionist I am a candidate for the United States Congress-OH district 8 and proceeded to wait my turn; the town hall meeting concluded without my participation as I was left to spend 20+ minutes on hold—how convenient.

Here are some of high points this paper will contemplate: 

          *The U.S. Constitution leaves the responsibility for public K-12 education with the states. [1] 

          *The original Department of Education was created in 1867 to collect information on schools and teaching that would help the States establish effective school systems. While the agency’s name and location within the Executive Branch have changed over the past 130 years, this early emphasis on getting information on what works in education to teachers and education policy-makers continues down to the present day. In 1980, Congress established the Department of Education as a Cabinet level agency.[2] The Department of Education, a 4,200-person agency, has enjoyed dramatic funding increases year after year since its creation over three decades ago.[3] 

          *The United States is a world leader in education investment. However, nations that spend far less achieve higher levels of student performance. [1] 

          *Nearly 85% of taxpayer dollars spent on education is estimated to come from the state and local levels. Federal funding has varied in recent years from about 8% to 15% at the most but is usually under 10%. [1] 

          *2004-2005: Even in this current time of the war against terror, taxpayer investment in education exceeds that for national defense. In addition to the K12 money mentioned above ($536B), taxpayers will spend an estimated $373 billion for higher education in the same school year. [1] 

          *ATC TEST SCORES:         

Average ACT Composite Score by Race/Ethnicity

                                                  2009  2010  2011  2012  1213

African American               16.9   16.9   17.0   17.0   16.9

American Indian                18.9   19.0   18.6   18.4   18.0

Asian                                       23.2   23.4   23.6   23.6   23.5

Hispanic                                18.7   18.6   18.7   18.9   18.8

Pacific Islander                   N/A    N/A    19.5   19.8   19.5

White                                      22.2   22.3   22.4   22.4   22.2

Still, this year’s (2013) scores ranged from an average of 16.9 among black students to 23.5 for Asian students. [4] 

The bottom line is America can and must do better; first rate public education is absolutely necessary for the long-term advancement and future prosperity of our Republic. Money is not the root problem; the numbers reveal as much. Junior college for today’s youngsters has too many times become a necessary bridge from high school to 4 year degree programs at the nation’s higher institutions of learning and universities. The high school diploma and the education it certifies fail to adequately prepare incoming college freshmen in far too many instances.

Now we have “Common Core”; the roots of this platform date back to the 1990’s and recently this has become the “new flavor-of-the-month” displacing Washington’s “No Child Left Behind” federal requirements that influence and sometimes regulate states’ education programs. Consequently it is my opinion we are now over-testing and under-educating our students.

Teachers are caught in the middle as they feel the pressures of new/additional “accountability” standards & metrics they know must be achieved to thwart any potential punitive repercussions for falling short. In the end it is the front-line teacher that is left holding the bag as they are “lorded-over” by a huge federal bureaucracy and education department administrators– and for what purpose? Do these strategies enhance the final product? The quantitative data suggests “NCLB” & perhaps “Common Core” do not work- nor have they worked. Rather, they have been expensive experiments in mediocrity at best! The top-down federal model (eerily similar to socialism) does not unleash the competitive powers and creativity of education’s real subject matter experts: America’s teachers! People closest to the problems are far more likely to present the most effective solutions to those problems. These problem-solvers are educators, local school boards and parents.

CORRECTIVE ACTIONS:

1.)      First control, oversight and administration for strategic and daily operations within our public education systems needs de-centralized. The 50 sovereign states that comprise the Republic are constitutionally charged with facilitating public education—not the federal government.

2.)      The federal government should stop manipulating state education systems with taxpayer monies. Any federal money spent on education should be offered to individual states for various programs whereby the funds are spent at the states’ discretion. The federal government should downsize the federal Department of Education by eliminating wasteful and duplicative programs. The Department of Education operates approximately 80 separate K–12 programs, many of which are redundant and ineffective. Such programs should be eliminated, and the agency should allow cross-program funding flexibility among the remaining programs. [3]

3.)      Re-focus on “core knowledge fundamentals”: reading, writing and mathematics. This so-called integrated “Common Core” approach sounds great but students should still be taught cursive writing (signatures are still relevant in life), students should know their math facts and be able to problem-solve without complete dependency on calculators and students should know in math there is one right answer albeit many avenues on how to get there. Arts, sports & fitness and trade/industrial education should also be part of a student’s education experience. We should strive for continuous improvement but not attempt to re-invent the wheel. The USA once had the best public education system in the world; we can re-learn from our past successes and develop new complementary techniques- but wholesale change like what we have seen recently does not lead to excellence but rather enslaves us to perpetual mediocrity—the status-quo is expensive in more ways than one and unacceptable.

4.)      In high school perhaps focus on three tracts for pupils to pursue: one preparing students for non-technical college degree programs, one that prepares students for technical college degree programs and one that prepares students for the trade-skill labor job market. Why is this so hard to contemplate? We have virtually eliminated shop and related classes from the basic footprint students follow in high school today; that decision was short-sighted and now there is a lack of trade skill workers. Explore partnerships with industry for co-operatives and practical education programs. Again, allow states and individual districts to control what they teach and how they teach it. FOOTNOTE (2/28/2016): the “tract” language here is not intended to advocate for the European-style model where students are placed into certain brackets of selective learning that will then define what kinds of study/careers they may or may not be able to undertake. The point here is for schools to offer electives above and beyond a classical education strategy that can better prepare the pupil for their post high school education choice–whether a technical focus in college or non-technical or a trade school career path.

5.)      The U.S. Department of Education should reward and incentivize excellence and achievement through challenge-projects that school districts and students can compete for and win rather than manage programs with a heavy hand of manipulation and control. Programs that facilitate school choice and funding for less affluent localities should be simplified and streamlined for greater effectiveness; allow states to manage and administer these efforts. “While Title I provides funding to low-income school districts, its complex and multiple funding streams make it more difficult for dollars to reach students. Consolidating the funding streams and simplifying the application and reporting requirements of Title I would save states time and money that could be better directed toward the classroom. States should also be allowed to make federal Title I dollars portable if they choose, following a child to any school of choice.” [3]

6.)      For college-bound technical degree seeking students, emphasis should be placed on: ensuring these students take chemistry, basic physics and some calculus prior to graduation from high school and that their high school education enhances their chances to achieve at least a composite score of 26 or higher on ACT college entrance exams. Greater emphasis should be applied in educating all college bound students to achieve higher college entrance exam scores so less, not more are forced to attend junior colleges for remediation purposes in order to gain admission to America’s top universities. Core knowledge mastery is essential.

7.)      Expand voucher programs and similar initiatives so parents and kids have more choice as to where they go to school. The “Separation of Church and State” clause does not appear in our federal constitution and I believe the Court has expanded the interpretation of the “dis-establishment clause” (which originally applied specifically to the federal government vice individual states) beyond the founders’ intent to the detriment of public education in America. Political correctness has invaded our society to include the nation’s classrooms. We now see the state actively embracing a culture of “secular humanism” as a favored world-view if not the state endorsed religion. The education and developmental maturation of America’s kids involve: the intellect, the spiritual and the physical. Regardless of how well educated we like to think we are as a society our schools form and shape our children in these developmental areas more than any other single influence in their lives simply because school is where they spend the majority of their waking hours on any given day. Religious rights must be protected and preserved for both the majority and the minority but trying to educate young people in a sterile environment has not worked and more importantly the whole idea is a falsehood.

8.)      Schools, administrators and teachers should be rewarded or penalized upon merited performance in the marketplace of public education. Accountability is best enhanced and preserved via a system of market place checks and balances whereby mediocre and failing performers are weeded out. This is why Americans love to watch and participate in athletics. Americans love to compete and win; Americans do not like to lose. This is reality and we must respect these principles similar to the laws of physics. Education is no different; facilitate continuous improvement by rewarding excellence in performance. Don’t institutionalize mediocrity through protectionism in public education because in the end our kids suffer and our nation fails to compete in the global marketplace. I believe over 90% of our nation’s teachers are proficient if not excellent at their craft so they need not worry. The others, maybe more-maybe less, may encounter challenges beyond the scope of their abilities and should be relieved. It has to be this way to get the best of the best in front of our kids in classrooms across the land. Lastly, I think the ladder of progression within the education career field needs re-vamped. The current structure seems to favor a top-heavy administrative model; it does not reward excellent front-line teachers. For my money, a school system should hire more front-line teachers and only staff a minimum number of administrators as operationally necessary because that is “overhead”. Additionally I believe individual districts should require every administrator to spend time in the classroom actively teaching throughout their career so the managers and leaders of the enterprise never lose the pulse of what the workers deal with on a day to day basis. Once a manager/leader is detached from the working challenges in the classroom they cease to be effective advocates for their faculty, their students and their schools.

Summary:  We have some of the best minds and best facilities in the world with which to educate our young. Americans expect better as we are not getting a satisfactory return on our monetary investment. America’s kids deserve better; they are our future. The over-reach and manipulative arm of the federal government is wasteful, ineffective and self-serving; the “one-size’ fits all model perpetuates substandard results. Return funding (no strings attached) to individual states and decentralize public education decision-making on behalf of our teachers, families and kids; empower local school boards and communities to compete and win in delivering top quality public education. Eliminate redundant and ineffective programs; drive performance based results wherever possible. Reduce the ranks of education administrators; use the savings to raise the pay of and hire more front-line teachers. Require administrators to teach in the classroom (on a reduced schedule) in order to remain current in their craft and better advocate for their enterprise and its stakeholders. Do less testing and more educating; focus on mastery of core knowledge subjects. Increase opportunities for school choice so the whole person can be educated and enriched. Guard against the invasion of political correctness in the classrooms of America. Find creative ways to re-discover religious freedom in the classroom while preserving the religious rights and freedoms of all persons: secular humanism is not an acceptable option. The federal government should set national goals and issue competitive challenges for scholastic achievement; the execution of public education strategy, however, rests with the states and local communities.

Respectfully,

“Of the people, By the people & For the people”
Kevin F. White, Lt Col USAF Ret. (Republican)
People for Kevin F. White
1833 N. Dayton-Lakeview Rd.
New Carlisle, OH 45344
(937) 679-8020

CREDITS: 

[1] 10 Facts About K12 Education Funding

http://www2.ed.gov/about/overview/fed/10facts/index.html?exp

[2] The Federal Role in Education

http://www2.ed.gov/about/overview/fed/role.html

[3] Obama’s 2013 Education Budget and Blueprint: A Costly Expansion of Federal Control; BACKGROUNDER | NO. 2677 April 12, 2012

http://report.heritage.org/bg2677

[4] ACT scores fall to lowest level in five years | Inside Higher Ed           https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/08/21/actscoresfalllowestlevelfiveyears