Well, I’m about to turn off my television because I can’t deal with any more political ads. The political scientist student in me thinks that the election cycle is extremely interesting, but the teacher in me is a little exhausted by both sides (or any side) using nice phrases and emotional ploys to think that they alone care about improving education in our country.
I watch the Mitt Romney ad slamming small class sizes as a trick created by teacher’s unions and explaining in the first debate that schools should be rated simply as A, B, C, D, and F regardless of the resources each school does or doesn’t have. I admit, I scratched my head. Clearly University School, a private school with tuition costs that rival my undergrad institution, will receive a higher garde than the school at which I teach. If my students had the option to attend a phenomenal school, programs like choice and charters wouldn’t have to exist. He tells students to borrow money from their parents, and I look at my students who have no such option. “Borrow what”, they ask. I worry he is so far removed from the issues that plague my students that he can’t fathom what it will take to improve their trajectories in life.
President Obama has raised Pell Grant money, and for that I’m grateful. Thankfully, waivers for NCLB are coming through. However, the past four years has seen little change in the standardized testing frenzy and has not tackled some of the most fundamental issues that plague our schools. Race to the Top is an interesting idea, and certainly the funding during a recession was helpful, but it’s not promoting the kind of positive change we need. Thanks to his elite university education, Obama shows he has cultivated the thinking skills required to be a global leader–but hasn’t used his position to ensure my students receive the opportunity to fine tune those same skills.
So, I will explain what a candidate would have to do to have my full support. That candidate would support moving away from local property taxes as a means to fund education. I know it sounds great to be contributing to your “local” school instead of a state or nationwide pull, but it is fundamentally unjust for students like mine. Next, my ideal candidate would promote teaching as a profession–by championing raising standards of schools of education, raising teacher salaries so they would attract the best candidates (why is it OK for companies to offer ludicrous packages to lure in CEOs, but not okay in this instance? In this case, let schools run like a business!). When the title of “Teacher” comes with the same respect that is associated with “lawyer” or “doctor”, then the best possible potential candidates flock towards the profession. Finally, my ideal candidate would look beyond the four or eight years of his or her administration. Education is a phenomenal investment, but it takes time to see the return on that investment. Promoting early childhood education may not win you points politically, but students will be prepared for school and learn the language and reading skills that can make or break their future before they step through their first grade door. Understanding that education cannot be measured in temporary test scores, but the cultivation of thinking skills over one’s academic career might not sound great in an ad or speech, but it will make the difference in years to come.
Right now, I can’t find my ideal candidate. So keep your politics out of my education, candidates. Don’t use it as a pawn. We KNOW what works. I just haven’t found anyone with the guts to put it into policy yet.