Sunday, June 8, 2008

Families are key to a better educational system

I've written before (Here) about ways we can improve education in America, and I thought I would take some time today to share some new information I've obtained.

Nikki over at According to Nikki wrote a very cool post about how " a supportive and loving family is the best formula for success in the school system... A desire to learn is natural for children and must be nurtured by parents and teachers together."

I couldn't have worded this better myself. And, like Nikki, I too believe that education should be a non-partisan issue and I too support the No-Child-Left-Behind Act despite the fact that many republicans think its another liberal effort to throw more money at a failing system.

My kid's school system is not failing, as most schools are not failing. The only school systems that are failing are a few, and those few are bringing down all our educational statistics. And most failing schools are in poor neighborhoods, mainly in inner city schools such as Detroit, Chicago, New York and Las Angeles.

I've read many books written by conservatives that claim that our schools are performing poorly, and that throwing more money at them will solve nothing. They might have a point here, in that the average cost per student is something like $7,000 per pupil, or maybe even up to $10,000 in some places.

What do they do with all that money? Ahhh, they waste it on all the bureaucrats, all the union people and the middle men trapped between the Fed and the actual students. What's the old saying: Bureaucrats care more about making sure they get paid than the students get educated.

So the bureaucrats should go. Teachers should be paid more, and based on performance: tenure ship should go. The teachers unions should go.

David Frum addressed this issue in his new book, "Comeback: Conservatism that can win again." He writes that under Bush, schools are funded better now than at any time in our history. Still, when faced with the choice of closing failing schools or giving them more money, they prefer to given them more money by almost a 7 to 1 margin.

However, even while conservatives shun this act, it actually might work to their benefit, because it forces people to see what schools are failing and which ones are not, and force those that are failing to improve. This, what I just wrote in that last sentence, is why I support the No Child Left Behind Act.

Frum writes that the Act is good in that it forces "parents to confront the actual performance of their own school in comparison to all other schools in the state." Any responsible mom would not want their child going to a failing school, but, then again, some moms and dads are not responsible.

And, he continues, "each and every year to come there will be another report, another head count of children failed. This head count will pose a challenge that will baffle today's Democratic Party. That party has one big educational idea: Spend more on what does not work."

And this will force people into thinking about and accepting alternatives, such as charter schools and school vouchers, particularly in these cities who have the highest rate of failing schools. This Act should open the eyes to everyone that we are letting these people down.

One of the best ways for conservatives to prove to people that throwing more money at a failing school system is not the way to go is by educating them. And what better way of making a clear case that a school is failing than by holding schools accountable based on the performance of their respective students, and listing them as "persistently failing" when they fail for five consecutive years.

I read recently that 80% of the kids in Detroit Public Schools drop out of school. That's a stunning failure not just of our school system, but of the family system in that area. These stats are similar to other inner city schools.

Thus, the major emphasis should not be so much on "how are we going to improve our schools," as it is "how are we going to improve the family," because most data suggests that kids who grow up with their natural dads have far higher graduation rates than kids who do not live with their natural dads. Graduation rates even continue to be low when parents re-marry into stable households.

And statistics show that the newer generations are far more likely to support tougher divorce laws than those born in the 1940s and 1950s, probably because many of this generation have been victims of torn families. So our politicians might be safe now in reforming divorce laws, and other such laws that would strengthen families, such as the per-child-tax credit among others.

My parents were great in more ways than one, but when it came to making me do my homework, I'd give them a D+. I was on my own in that regard, and as a result my grades sucked until I learned how to motivate myself half way through college. Otherwise I'd probably have a job where I could actually use my brain, instead of being a lowly RT.

So, when my eldest child was school age, and my wife sat with him every day encouraging him to do his homework, I told her she should stop it. I told her she is working him too hard, and she should let him go out and play with the other kids so he isn't so stressed all the time.

As usual, my wife had a logical response, "Kids," she said, "Don't know how to prioritize, so parents have to do it for them. In time, they will learn how to prioritize, and I will slowly but surely allocate that responsibility to him."

Hmmm, well, she sure put me in my place.

Every day at 4:00 the neighbor boy knocks on the door and says, "Can Jordan come over to play?" And every day the boy has to tell him, "No, I can't. I have to do my homework first."

Sometimes the boy complains. Once I even told her that she should just let him fail a time or two, and then he'd learn that if he doesn't study he will fail and continually get railed on by his parents. But, then again, that's what I did when I was a kid, and look where I ended up.

So, once again, my wife was right: parents need to push their kids to do their homework. And the result with my boy is that he got all A's this year, and he's extremely proud of himself.

I showed him my report card from the 4th grade. I got all Bs and Cs. On the side of this report card was this note by my teacher: "Rick could have gotten better grades had he only applied himself."

Point made.


Anthony Palmer said...

This is a good post and I agree with most of what you said in principle. Personal accountability is best remedy for our failing school system and many other problems.

But unfortunately, when people who have no resources are left to their own devices, the most likely outcome is continued failure. You have high school dropouts who have babies. These babies often grow up in single-parent and abusive households and live in drug-filled neighborhoods and attend schools riddled with violence and low standards. So how are they going to succeed? The ideal response would be pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, but most people are simply going to fall through the cracks in the face of such adversity. There are always exceptions, but realistically speaking, it just doesn't happen.

Regarding vouchers, I think people better be careful with what they wish for because private schools are private for a reason. I don't think some parents will be too happy with "kids from failing schools" attending their children's schools, which are safer and have certain demographics that appeal to them. "Kids from failing schools" is a codeword, by the way.

Nikki said...

Hey Rick thanks for the link! I am going to put a link to this one as a supplement at the end of the post...great job. I think doing a lot of this during the election will be a great idea! thanks again, :)N

Freadom said...

Good point, Anthony, about vouchers. I also think that if we do have vouchers, and the Fed is funding them, someone in Congress will decide it's the Feds responsiblility to set Fed standards for private schools too.

Then again, it's really not the Feds money, it's our money. But some people don't see it that way. Good point.

All we really know for certain, however, is the current road of tossing more and more money at schools is not causing grades to go up, and other options should be considered. However, if we can't convince the people that change is needed, we are basically blowing into the wind.