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Too many ideas, too little understanding

Federal takeover of our schools

At a time when local schools systems are burdened with economic and administrative woes, it might seem inappropriate to speak of the even larger problem facing our schools: We are in danger of losing local control. We are told that our schools are failing, and the only way to save them is to submit to the whims of the federal bureaucracy.

This claim is false in two distinct ways. First, it isn't’t our schools that are failing; and second, no one in the Washington power structure has the foggiest notion of how to solve the actual education problem.

Since ancient times, education has filled two vital functions: to provide citizens with the skills needed to preserve the society; and to equip individuals for finding personal success and happiness. These functions are still valid— and our schools are struggling to fulfill them—but far too many of our young people are simply not motivated to accept what the schools are offering.

Parental attitude is the primary ingredient in academic success. A high level of parental enthusiasm for education translates into more academically receptive students and higher achievement levels. Of course, the reverse is also true. Families with low appreciation of education fail to motivate their children for academic success. Lack of motivation is a family and community problem, and won’t be overcome by modifying schools. The best of teachers in classrooms with 30 students can’t overcome years of parental neglect.

Studies show that the disparity in student achievement among public schools is consistent over the long term. Intensive efforts to improve the standing of low achieving schools by making changes in faculty and administration have shown little, if any, lasting improvement. This is hardly surprising. Public schools are tied to the population of the communities they serve; so long as the makeup of the population is stable, student achievement will remain largely unchanged. Disparities in testing generally reflect the differences among the communities, not among their schools.

Parents who are unhappy with a local school’s environment, and have the resources, may seek alternatives such as; private schools, church schools, magnet schools, charter schools, or schools in more expensive neighborhoods. Most alternatives schools have a selective student population, and —as a consequence—generally higher student achievement levels. This is a self-reinforcing success story; a reputation of high achievement attracts additional high achievers.

But reputation is not necessarily a valid measure of a school’s educational competence.  Motivated students can still get a good education at schools in lower achieving communities; but it can be socially difficult when achieving above the community norm.

If communities largely determine educational achievement, why are schools being singled out for blame? National testing, mandated by the federal government, has elevated awareness to the federal level. Politicians and bureaucrats are unable—or unwilling—to deal with the difficult problem of motivating families and students. Instead, they justify their jobs by creating a list of “failing” schools that can be targeted for political “solutions.”  Congress, full of lawyers—but with few teachers—has no conception of the effect its laws have on education. The Department of  Education, established by Jimmy Carter to repay the teachers unions for their support, is a huge bureaucracy that has done nothing significant to advance education, but has done much to overload our schools with paperwork, mandates and useless advice. It purports to be in the education business, but is palpably ignorant about the real world of schools.

The Obama administration is seeking further control of public education. Such top-down control has historically been used to indoctrinate students into adherence to the politically powerful (as in the former Soviet Union) and would be devastating to our democracy. Locally controlled schools may not be perfect, but they are far more responsive to local concerns. We must not let the smokescreen of failed schools steal away the education of our children.

by Rod Paramoure, Columnist, Marietta Daily Journal, April 04, 2010

The DOE only talks about education; it doesen't actually do education