If the United States is to preserve our system of free public schools, teacher unions are going to have to stop accepting the status quo and making excuses for the poor performance of our students. Most of us know that contrary to all of the talk about how we are raising our standards, in most of our schools they continue to decline. The low scores on the so-called high stakes tests are testimony to the fact that large numbers of students leave school knowing next to nothing and ill equipped for any but the most menial of jobs. While many of our most talented young people spend their days in so-called accelerated courses with curricula once thought more appropriate to the college level, too many of them have whizzed right by basic skills and cannot string together three coherent sentences or know to any degree of certainty if they have received the correct change in a store. We must face the fact that some of the right-wing critique of public education, particularly their criticism of the ever inflating costs of public education, resonates with the American public because it is true, or at least truer than some of the blather put out by the people who run the schools and the unions who represent the people who work in them. If it is true that our freedom is ultimately tied to our being an enlightened and educated citizenry, we are in terrible trouble.
Excuse number one – We don’t have enough money to meet the educational needs of our students. While too many of our school districts do need more financial resources, resources that many find impossible to raise trough the regressive property tax, the fact of the matter is too many of them also waste a substantial portion of what they have, a good piece of the waste mandated by state and federal law. I’ve written elsewhere about the administrative bloat in school districts where level upon level of bureaucracy insures that teachers and educational support staff are over scrutinized and under supervised to the point where teaching innovation and imagination are increasingly giving way to the routines of educational programs, particularly in math and English, that are intended to make teaching thinking-free.