09 June 2010

A Better Bailout for Schools

In the last few weeks, Congress has quietly dropped a proposed $23 billion bailout for public schools, which would have been a second round of bailouts, the stimulus being the first. Funny thing about these bailouts is that they need to be repeated; they only paper over the problem of too few dollars chasing too many requirements. As a teacher, I hope that instead of pumping more money into the public education hole, governments, state and federal, will instead reduce the number and scope of mandated programs devised ostensibly to assist individual students, but which in practice seem to only create paper trails and bureaucracy.

Some requirements are no more than bureaucratically driven time-suckers. The reams of paper generated each year in an attempt to document that students are indeed being helped drains significant time and resources (not the least of which is money) from the actual helping. If the real goal is to help students achieve to the utmost of their ability, there are other ways to monitor student progress and teacher measures taken to ensure such. But what seems to be the goal is living up to the law – namely IDEA and Section 504 – which requires mounds of paperwork and a number of committee meetings. And, as you might guess, more and more legal expertise as opposed to teaching expertise. Everything must be documented, sometimes on forms so cryptic that even experienced administrators get glassy-eyed examining them.

I am not suggesting that students covered by IDEA and Section 504 should not be handled specially – though I might suggest consideration of the alarming position that all children must be taught the same things to the same level. What I am suggesting is that in pursuit of avoiding lawsuits, the educational train has jumped the rails. Money, time, and effort are being poured out in pursuit of…equality of outcome? Or is it documentation thereof? Or is it documentation of attempts to achieve equality of outcome?

What I am sure of is that in many places throughout the country, students of all ability levels would be better served if local communities had the responsibility and flexibility to educate their students as their citizens decided. Education is a local matter. Indeed, the more educational success is stressed by locals, the more I believe it would be valued by students of all ability levels. On the other hand, as Dennis Prager has said, “The bigger the government, the smaller the individual.” As state governments and the federal government relieve localities of control, education becomes more legalistic, less of a community binder, and less valued by the individual, who sees education as an entitlement instead of as a goal. The nation hardly needs another $23 billion to further enmesh federal bureaucracy in what should be a local matter; it needs to save the billions wasted to keep federal and state bureaucracies happy.

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