“Once upon a time, a long time ago –– a large, prosperous, nation, determined that all of its children should be formally educated. This would strengthen the country economically and give every citizen an opportunity to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. Uniformity was also a goal. If the government operated the schools, everyone would receive an equal education and an equal opportunity. This would help to eliminate social class elitism.”
But a sizable number of parents decided to put their children into private schools. Some of their motivation was religious, and some was the recognition that not all children are the same. Parents realized that their child couldn’t keep up with other children academically, or was more advanced, resulting in boredom and frustration for their child.
The private alternative had not caused a great disruption to the government agenda because the tuition for private education limited the number of students who could attend. But then something happened that had a direct impact on the government’s plan for an equal education for all. Critics complained that the government system of public schools was not efficient and that America was not competing academically with foreign countries. It was also noted that the quality of schools varied dramatically. Children in upscale neighborhoods received an education far superior to children in poor areas.
These concerns led to the introduction of government sponsored vouchers, which would help parents pay for private-school tuition, along with public schools that would be managed by private companies (Charters). Now, more children could leave the public system –– and they did. This desertion alarmed public school administrators. They decided to offer more competitive services. They devised exceptional programs that would specialize in dozens of attractive career paths, (for example, aeronautics, entrepreneurship, and gifted studies). These programs became highly popular. And, in fact, in one state, 50 to 60% of all K – 12 students enjoyed educational choice, either within the public system or privately.
Problem solved? No, not at all. These many options resulted in fights over the best students to fill the selective schools –– those with high ability, motivation, concentration, and self-control.
Getting into these attractive programs was sometimes daunting, because it required the ability to navigate a rather complex application system and to enter early lotteries for admission. In one elementary school, only 60 of 550 applicants were accepted. In another middle school, 60 students were accepted from a pool of 468 applications. In one high school, 162 students were accepted from 462 applicants who wanted to study health-related professions. But on average, 30 to 40% of applicants were accepted into dozens of attractive schools.
The problem was that a good number of non-selected students were left behind in neighborhood schools. Politicians and school administrators insisted that the kids left behind were the same as those who were selected for better options, and they believed that these children should be on an academic track for college. Reforms, such as high-stakes testing, the grading of schools, and a uniform curriculum, were imposed on these neighborhood kids, the ones who were the least able and/or the least motivated to excel in academics. The teachers of these children were unfairly measured against teachers in the selective programs and those in public schools in wealthy areas.
For thirty years, reformers tried everything. Most reforms seemed logical and worth trying, but they didn’t work all that well. The effort was to leave no child behind, but children from less wealthy neighborhoods were indeed left behind. Actually, they were unintentionally pushed down, because parents with good resources went elsewhere with their kids. Unfortunately, authorities didn’t seem to recognize differences in children or were politically restrained from acknowledging differences in the students’ environments and/or ability levels.
Here’s a relevant analogy: The unselected student is forced to leave the mother ship and walk a narrow, unsteady plank over black waters not infested with sharks, but rather filled with drugs, idleness, and unemployment, in order to enter an impregnable castle on a tiny island named college town.
- We don’t have to offer reform programs for the top 50%, the students already enjoying educational choice, because they and their parents have secured a place in exceptional academic and career programs.
- It is the non-selected kids who need the most help. They should be given an opportunity for career education beginning in middle school and extending through high school. And it is critical that no daunting enrollment procedures or transportation should be required. This career education would be designed for the non-selected students who have been left behind; in other words, all of the students who have not been siphoned off to a “better world.”
- Non-selected, full-time career students would not be subjected to high-stakes academic testing or end of high school testing for graduation. Instructors who follow national certification guidelines would determine their success in their career education.
- Today, graduation rates are as low as 65% in non-selective schools. With the introduction of career educations programs, that rate could climb to as high as 95%.
- Good-sized communities would have public Career Colleges. This would make a truism out of the myth that all students should attend college.
- Unselected neighborhood kids who were truly motivated for academic work would be helped and encouraged to enter a college-prep track, even though this would encompass only a small percentage of students from that unselected, left-behind group.
- Form a parent group advocating the above approach.
- Go online and google the state legislature to find members who sit on the education and finance committees representing your area.
- Call, write, and visit these elected officials.
- Visit school board members and school administrators.
- Talk to the local teachers’ union.
Our country prides itself on a federal social security system that provides a safety net for those who have financial difficulties, especially during retirement years. It recognizes that many individuals do not have the ability, motivation, health, self-control, or in some cases good luck, to provide for themselves financially. In this financial security area, we Americans are realistic in acknowledging that not everyone is the same. But when it comes to educational security, we seem afraid to acknowledge that not everyone has the ability, motivation, self-control, and concentration to succeed at high levels in academic or career skills.
Acknowledging that not everyone can be in the top 50% in terms of mental ability and family environmental opportunities allows us to focus on realistic school reform. Most would agree that we have a responsibility to provide a safety net for our citizens. Helping those who are not elite academic students is also in our own best interest and will result in happy citizens who are taxpayers and workers. This will come closer to the original public school agenda of providing an opportunity for all our citizens to pursue life, liberty, and happiness.