I know I write a lot about American education. I freely admit it’s one of my pet peeves. It began when I worked at a high school in south Texas, because I was absolutely appalled at the level of education there, the ignorance of most the teachers, the self-serving politics of the administration which hampered the few good teachers in their work, and all the time spent on things other than education.
The reason I still go on about it every now and then is because education is a big issue here. Not the biggest issue on the campaign trail, but indirectly it’s always there. Why are American jobs going overseas? Not just because it’s cheaper in India. People are better educated there. Why are so few kids choosing for a career in science? Because they’ve had no science education to speak of and because so many public school math teachers don’t even have a bachelor’s degree in math. Why does America rate in the high thirties in every international education-rating list? Because overall, public education here is bad. There’s no way around it.
The teachers’ unions will have you believe that America’s lack of education is due to parents not being involved, students being from poor backgrounds, students not speaking English at home, fathers being absent, classroom ceilings having leak stains, teachers not being paid enough, teachers not being appreciated enough–anything but that the teachers aren’t teaching.
Everywhere I go, ever since working at that school, I hear teachers and administrators say they have only the students’ best interests at heart. The more I hear someone say that, the less I believe it. I heard it the most from the superintendent of that little school I worked at, and nothing was further from the truth. That guy did every single thing he did for his own personal gain. He wanted to get his contract renewed, so he did what was popular with the school board.
The school board in that tiny hamlet consisted largely if not entirely of people with no education themselves, whose biggest power in life was being on that board, who sat chewing gum on their little podium during graduation, and who just wanted their kids to get their high school diploma, regardless of whether it stood for anything or not.
Whether the superintendent’s contract got renewed depended on the number of kids that would graduate. So he pressured the teachers to give them all good grades and he got around the standardized testing by sticking students who acted up in special ed, where they would get their diploma even if they didn’t pass the TAAS test.
He scored brownie points by building a football field in a flood zone. He had to have three feet of dirt brought in; imagine how much that alone cost. Not a single decision he made–as far as I could tell, and he bragged about all his ‘accomplishments’ to no end–was aimed at getting those kids a better education.
And that superintendent, in that little corner of the country, is no exception. One man, who came to the Rio Grande Valley on the Teach for America Program, worked in a public school for two years, was disgusted, and started a charter school. For my Dutch readers: a charter school is a public school (free) but with greater freedom to teach in ways they feel is more effective.
He has been extremely successful. He has those charter schools all over the Valley now. They’re called the IDEA Academy. Students from all backgrounds go there–poor, rich, native English speakers, native Spanish speakers, etc., and they do well. They have a much higher graduation rate and more of the students go on to college than from the surrounding public schools.
So now he wants to expand into San Antonio and Austin. I don’t know about San Antonio, but every morning on the local radio I hear the Austin ISD being scared shitless. In the name of having the students’ best interests at heart, they are dragging their feet, saying we should think about this more, that the IDEA Academy should be made to sign a non-compete clause, more studies should be done, etc., before they are allowed to set up a charter school in east Austin, the area which could benefit the most from improved education. One of the arguments is that the IDEA Academy doesn’t actually educate underserved areas. Have they been to the Rio Grande Valley? Have they seen the state of education there?
If the public school education in east Austin is so great, why would Austin ISD be afraid of competition? This is not about the students’ best interests. This is about teachers and principals and the superintendent potentially being shown within a very short period of time that what they haven’t been able to do can be done, just not–obviously–by the teaching establishment or within the present teaching system.