Mark L. Hopkins: Fixing American Education: Politics
In the mid-1960s American education was still among the best in the world. Today, comparative test scores indicate we rank well down the line as compared to other developed nations. Why? The problems are multiple and books have been written that focus on the various problems. Several of these will be examined in future columns. This column is focused on “political” meddling from Washington D.C.
It was 1966 when the first of the massive educational “new broom” programs swept through Congress and landed on our public school system. Since then each new administration that comes to Washington D.C. seems to feel the need to “fix” public education. The results have not been good.
Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos said, “Federally mandated assessments, Federal money, and Federal Standards, all originated in Washington, and none solved the problem.”
One approach that is still creating “waves” in the public school system is a George W. Bush program called “No Child Left Behind.” Most educators think that “No Child Left Behind” has left many children behind. A key portion of that program seems to say, “Let’s reward the teacher when his/her students score well on standardized tests.” This approach is designed to motivate the teacher to teach to the test which may develop a nation of really good test takers but not much productivity in more important areas.
President Donald Trump has some thoughts on how to improve our education system too. I suspect his ideas will show up in Congress eventually and our schools will have yet another “new broom” to deal with. Perhaps you will forgive the sarcasm when I say “Oh good, someone else who never spent a day in a classroom or prepared a lesson plan telling the professionals how to teach our children.”
Knowing little about the technical aspects of boats and automobiles, I should never try to tell a mechanic how to fix one. The point is that the amateurs in Washington D.C. should leave the education of our children to those who are trained and dedicated to do the job. The educational process is complicated. There is no “one size fits all” in teaching children. Creating a positive learning environment must be done one to one in the classrooms of America not by the politicians in Washington D.C.
The most important aspect of a positive educational system is the involvement of parents and teachers in the process. You can’t do that from the halls of congress. It must be done locally, school by school, all across the country.
I am among those who believe it isn’t a coincidence that student achievement began to drop at about the same time Congress and the president began to mettle in our education system. As Stan Laurel of the old Laurel & Hardy comedy team used to say, “It’s a fine mess you’ve gotten us into now Ollie.”
All involved directly in the education of our children know the process is complicated. Many factors have changed since the mid-1960s when our students topped the comparisons in almost every category. The makeup of our school population is significantly different; the challenges of the 21st century are much greater than ever before, yet our time on task approach is still stuck in the traditions and schedule of an agrarian society; other countries we are compared with have made significant advance in their approaches but we have been slow to change. One might ask, “How does one compare student achievement when we have seven identifiable areas of intelligence and can only test two of them, language usage and math?” Are such tests a good measuring stick for academic competence?
Lest you think I have left out some very important aspects of education in the focus of this column, please note I have word limitations. Thus, to get a broader look at our educational approaches that need remediation tune in next week for the third in this educational series.
— You can reach Dr. Mark L. Hopkins at firstname.lastname@example.org. Books by Hopkins, “Journey to Gettysburg, The Wounds of War, The World as it was When Jesus Came,” and “Facts & Opinions on the Issues of our Time,” can be acquired at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and through the E-mail above.