Sunday, May 21, 2006

Has Public Education Been Damaged Beyond Resuscitation?

This excellent piece appeared in the Georgetown Times

Has Public Education Been Damaged Beyond
Date: 4/10/2006
Georgetown Times Editorial
By John Brock

In spite of the fact that many honorable folks in the
teaching field have tried their best, I fear that in
bureaucratic attempts to sustain a failing public
education system, we have become more concerned with
“filling the pail” than with the more important task
of “lighting a fire.” Public education in America is
at low ebb.

With layers upon layers of bureaucracy, the prime goal
of which seems sometimes to be justifying a
bureaucrat’s job, we have hamstrung those trying their
hardest to educate our children by taking the
initiative from teachers and placing too much emphasis
on style rather than substance. Our children suffer as
a result.

Remember the old black-and-white television sets with
a host of manual controls? Once you set the
vertical-hold control, it necessitated adjusting the
horizontal hold, which in turn called for the
manipulation of yet another control, until the picture
was thoroughly torn apart and the repairman had to be
called. That’s what we have done to the public
education system. We have “adjusted” it to the point
it is no longer effective as a whole.

This is no less true in South Carolina. ABC’s John
Stossel produced a national segment recently entitled,
“Stupid in America,” pointing to our state as a poster
child for failed public education. Many teachers,
superintendents, and school personnel are doing an
admirable job, but on the whole, the public education
system is not offering quality education to all
students commensurate with the amount of money being
thrown at it. But, whenever someone professes
improvements to American public education, their
solution seems always to be: more money! This is
hogwash. We spend more money per pupil on education
than any other country but our ranking is far below
many smaller, less-developed countries. We have
sufficiently proved to rational minds that more money
is not the solution.

Many citizens fear that public education has reached a
point of no return. The entire procedure needs to be
scraped and a new model started from scratch — based
on ancient principles of learning. Since the
powers-that-be will never agree to a complete
makeover, then our only course of correction appears
to be allowing parents to transfer their children from
failing schools to schools that actually teach. In
many cases this would be private schools, which charge
tuition. We have a responsibility to parents at
under-performing schools to help out with vouchers to
cover the cost for alternative education.

But there is opposition to this approach because
schools will actually have to compete for students.
Competition works elsewhere. But many public educators
vehemently oppose this plan because it means they just
might lose their jobs. Good teachers will always be
able to get work whether in public or private venues.

Suppose we lived in a nation of socialized medicine.
You are assigned to one doctor and one hospital. Never
mind that the doctor is a quack and the hospital has
death rates triple that of other nearby institutions,
you must go to them unless you are wealthy enough to
go to another physician or hospital of your choosing.

Outrageous? You bet. But this is exactly the same
socialized public education situation in which parents
find themselves today, because government dictates
that your child must attend this public school or that
one, regardless of how bad the school might be.

Public school systems today have become huge
bureaucratic caverns where less than 40 per cent of
school personnel actually face students as teachers.
The others are engaged in ancillary functions,
including planning new ways to complicate the
otherwise simple process of teaching.

After careful thought and study, I have concluded that
public education in most parts of America has been
tampered with, adjusted, added to, micro- managed, and
further maligned far beyond our ability to repair it.
Our state is no exception and until we start all over
again or offer an alternative, our children will
continue to be undereducated.

It’s time to re-think the whole process of public

But for South Carolinians, the future is bleak —
especially when the head honcho in the state’s public
school bureaucracy declares in the ABC television
special that South Carolina is seeing great progress
in some areas. “We are ranked No. 1 in the country on
improvement on SAT,” State Superintendent, Inez
Tenenbaum, boasted.

“That’s great” the television show’s host remarked but
added, "when you’re ranked at the bottom, improvement
doesn’t mean much, and South Carolina, even after it
is No. 1 in improvement is still last among states,"
(and then noted) "in government monopolies, that’s how
bureaucrats think.”

The television special concludes that the American
public is pretty much stuck with inferior public
education system unless drastic measures are taken. I

We must expect more from public education.

An excellent opportunity can be found in offering
parents of school children a choice of which school
their child can attend. What better way to accomplish
this than through vouchers? This will result in
spending no more (perhaps less) money than is now
spent but will restore sanity to public teaching. If
public school systems suffer, so be it! They have had
their chance. It’s time to offer every child the
opportunity of attending an excellent school.

It’s a win/win situation: all parents will have a
choice — regardless of income — public schools will
improve in order to survive and most importantly our
children will be educated!

Competition made America great. Why not give it a
chance to work its wonders in public education?

Mr. Brock lives in Georgetown County. He can be
reached by mail at this newspaper or by e-mail at

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