The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

Democrats and Republicans debate on education reform

Democrat

This morning I read in the news that one of the staunchest supporters of Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the battle against Chicago’s teachers unions in the midst of yesterday’s strike is vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan.

I was initially taken aback, but I’m reminded that politics often makes for strange bedfellows, and I think that’s no more evident than in the area of education reform. When it comes to proposing solutions to our nation’s educational woes, I feel like partisan lines simply aren’t as evident as they are when it comes to issues like immigration reform and gay marriage.

That lack of partisan divisions should be a good thing. If the divisions are more porous, one might think we would have an easier time coming up with a solution. However, that just doesn’t seem to be the case.

When we talk about reforming our nation’s educational system, it’s easy to throw around partisan platitudes like, “We need to spend more money on schools” and “We need to lessen the influence of unions on the system.” But where exactly should the money be going? And in what ways should unions have less influence? We need to be more incisive when asking these questions or we’re bound to keep talking past each other.

However, I do think that there are some commonsense solutions that we can agree on. First of all, our insistence on numerical benchmarks to measure our students’ progress is often doing us more harm than good. In many instances, the security of a teacher’s job or a school’s funding depends on how well students do on yearly state-administered tests. Other times a student cannot go on to the next grade unless they get a certain score.

The fundamental flaw of such systems is that when you use a particular test to measure a student’s progress, you really only need to teach the student to do well enough on that test and no better. Teaching a student how to take a particular test is a far different challenge from teaching them the actual skills they need to survive in college, the workplace and beyond. Moreover, such systems are rife with scandal. Georgia in the past couple of years is just one of many examples of widespread corruption among school officials to keep funding and jobs.

Another huge problem we need to consider is where the funding for our schools comes from. School funding in most circumstances is tied to local property taxes. On the surface, such an idea makes sense. After all, schools are an essential component of local neighborhoods, and by tying the funding to property taxes it helps to ensure that citizens have more of an interest in the upkeep of their own local schools.

However, such a system breeds huge disparities in terms of educational quality. Consider how Highland Park ISD is one of the top school districts in the country and Dallas ISD is consistently ranked among the lowest. When you think about where the money is coming from, the answer to why HP succeeds and DISD fails seems obvious. If states were to take more of the burden when it comes to funding school districts, we might see this problem mitigated.

That being said, I think one of the biggest problems we face is changing the perception of the educational vocation. When I tell people that I’d like to spend a good chunk of my life teaching after college, I tend to get looks of shock and disdain.

With the nation that so many of us assume that “those who can do and those who can’t teach” is most certainly problematic. The idea that we expect teachers to be mediocre is as harmful as having mediocre teachers to begin with. Until we start changing this stigma against the teaching profession and encouraging successful and qualified people to serve the educational community, I can’t say I’m optimistic about our educational future.

Bub is a junior majoring in English, political science and history.

Republican

The cornerstone of the “American Way” has always been the availability of public education, but as Americans are now rated as only the fourth smartest country in the world, it is clear that along the way something has gone afoul.

We are, I kid you not, three spots behind Canada. CANADA. Come on.

The Chicago Teachers Union strike is quite indicative of the direction in which education in this country is going. A union is causing trouble, is anyone really that surprised? (Let us all take a moment to be thankful that Texas is a right to work state with little union involvement. Amen.

Rather than focus on quality education for students, teachers in Chicago are protesting their pay, working conditions and benefits in a district in which the average salary is $76,000. This strike is made even more alarming by the fact that this union’s budget for next year is already expecting to have a $1 billion deficit. What has so far come from this is a lot of angry parents who must now find alternative ways of ensuring their children are looked after while they themselves are at work. There is an increased belief in the need to privatize education in this country.

The U.S. has had a good run with the whole public education thing, but as with virtually every other program these days, it looks like the federal government’s time of holding the purse strings is coming to an end.

Thanks in large part to teachers’ unions, the federal government has effectively put the monetary desires of the teachers ahead of the education of the students. While I believe in earnest that the quality of a public education these days is not what it used to be, I know it has the potential to be what it once was.

Charter schools receive federal funding but are run much like a lot of private schools and often run by private corporations. These schools, while controversial, traditionally have a waiting list to get into them because they work and can bring in the best students from all across a district or even several districts. These schools, while technically public, are less controlled by the federal government which, let’s face it, can’t seem to do a whole lot right these days.

While most college students are cognizant of the current problems in the American educational system, it is safe to say the average current Mustang will not be lamenting the need for quality 5th grade teachers for at least another fifteen years or so. What impacts college students is the fact that the cost of a college education is skyrocketing with no end in sight.

Going to SMU, a student expects to pay a little bit more. It is a private institution after all. What is shocking though is that schools, which were once the cost of a Chevy Tahoe behind SMU, are starting to catch up in price. After college, a great number of graduates now not only must worry about bleak job prospects in a troubled economy, but also deal with staggering debt to pay off the degree that was supposed to land them a job right out of the gate.

Obviously, there are more problems and areas in which education must be reformed in this country, but taking the unions out of public education and being more proactive in terms of introducing charter schools would go a long way in helping matters.

From there, make those students who wish to pursue higher education better able to do so without running into crippling debt by making college affordable. What happens in the classrooms will eventually show up in the economy. Do you really want a debt-laden generation with a sub-standard education carrying on the American legacy? I know I don’t.

Dunn is a junior majoring in political science. 

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