What a Shame: Legislators are misguided about fixing our schools.
- By Paul Abramson
- February 1st, 2012
Over the last several weeks, I’ve been looking at and analyzing data on
school construction. The result — School
Planning & Management’s 17th Annual School Construction
Report — can be found on other pages in this magazine.
The data was compiled by Market Data Retrieval, a Dun & Bradstreet
Company, and it not only identified construction projects, it provided a
one-line text description of what was being planned and its status. Reading
those one-liners, I began to discern a disturbing pattern, especially in regard
to retrofit projects.
The project purpose was often described in terms of need — “replace roof,”
“safety,” “clean drinking water,” “handicapped access” but in almost half of the
prospective projects the tag line was “the project is on hold pending funding.”
What a shame. It has been three years since legislation was proposed
that would have made federal dollars available to help fix up schools,
hospitals, bridges and similar deteriorating public-use structures. School
districts across the nation identified their problems and prepared plans to fix
them. All that was needed was Congressional approval of legislation everyone
could support. After all, such construction programs would not only create
jobs, they would also result in improvements to public facilities in every
single congressional district in the U.S. Every sitting member of Congress
would be able to stand in front of an improved facility and take credit for it.
A win-win situation, one would think.
But the legislation was never passed and the deteriorated facilities
remain as they were.
While Congress could never provide dollars to fix buildings, its members
have plenty of time to determine how schools should teach. And that, in my
view, is not a good thing.
American education is in trouble today, and the trouble has nothing to
do with comparisons to the education systems of other nations, or with the
number of engineers and scientists being produced by China. American education
is in trouble because politicians and others with no knowledge of education, of
children or of learning processes are setting the school agenda and funding
Thus, all of education waits with bated breath while members of Congress
sit in Washington and argue over whether we should have a Democratic or a
Republican way to educate children when, or if, “No Child Left Behind” is
The fact that both ways depend on testing systems that are contrary to
what is best for children is not even a consideration. Nor is there any serious
discussion at the political level of the ridiculousness of a system that
penalizes struggling schools (usually in poor neighborhoods) by taking
resources away from them. Whatever the politicians decide, the schools
apparently will have to do.
Politicians in Washington and most state capitals have another agenda
that is at least as serious. Having stated — with few independent facts or figures
— that education in America is failing, they are finding more and more ways to
take taxpayer money that has sustained our public education system and put it
into private hands. We now have examples of public school systems that have
essentially been bankrupted because of laws that force them to fund private,
for-profit, charter schools. And federal regulations are pushing states to
create more charter schools, despite study after study showing that, at best,
they provide no better educational outcomes than do the public schools serving
the same student populations.
Why this support for charter schools? Two obvious reasons come to mind.
First, creating them provides an aura that governors and legislators are “doing
something” about education. Second, it puts public money into private hands —
it is a step toward privatization of public schools — and in those private
hands, some of the profit, at least, might find its way back into the political
Another disturbing trend — Some legislatures and governors are now also dabbling
directly into curriculum, dictating what should be taught in such areas as
evolution, climate change and sex education rather than leaving it to the
people who are expert in the subjects.
As a person who has worked with
the public schools for more than 50 years, I’m very concerned by the trends I
see, and equally concerned by the failure of the organizations that represent
administrators, teachers, professors, school planners and involved parents, to
come together as a cohesive force to take back the educational initiative in
our nation. If they do not do so, and do it quickly, the supposed deterioration
in American education will be a fact and will accelerate, as people with little
knowledge set America’s educational course.