Better Education Requires Smarter Politicians

When it comes to education the goal for changes we make to the system should be based on improvement. Unfortunately the Republican solutions seem to value privatization over all else.

In state after state Republican legislators claim that public education is broken yet rather than looking at the fact based data that shows the best methods for improving performance they insist on changes that don’t improve education but rather changes that address their political donor’s priorities.

The main Republican education solutions tend to be more Charter schools, end unions, and fire more teachers. Luckily by now there is enough data to show the false promise of these “solutions”.

First it should be noted that while some Charter schools outperform their public school counterparts, there are also a lot of Charter schools that underperform compared to public schools. In fact 15% of all Charter schools have been closed because of their dismal results. On average Charter school perform no better than public schools so if public schools are broken then so are the Republican solution.

Having said that, one of the topics typically left out of this discussion is the leeway given to Charter schools and their teachers. Leeway that is not available to public schools. Since government has set up a system to standardize public schools which limits innovation, it is not an apples to apples comparison. If innovation is the key driver behind improved performance at some Charter schools then perhaps the answer is less government involvement in the class room not more Charter schools.

For some Republicans having equivalent outcomes is better because they have been told that Charter schools cost less. Of course this is a prevalent fallacy among conservatives. While some Charter schools do cost less than public schools, others cost more. But if you analyze the data you will see the smoke and mirrors required to achieve this savings. For example Charter schools serve less of the costliest and neediest students, they hire younger teachers with lower qualifications, and they have fewer restrictions when it comes to removing the most time consuming and disruptive students.

Another perceived value of Charter schools is the belief that they are free to fire all of the bad teachers that have infested our public schools yet data shows that Charter schools don’t tend to fire more teachers than public schools. While prevalent, this idea that you can’t fire bad teachers is inaccurate. Opponents often quote statistics regarding the low number of tenured teachers who get released. The reality is that many of the mythical “bad” teachers are weeded out before they reach tenure and 46% of educators leave the profession in the first five years. The majority of those left have been thoroughly vetted and are dedicated to helping America’s children.

While the added protections of tenure do require school systems to provide reason behind their release, preventing some of the questionable firings that you are seeing today, it is hardly the guaranteed “job for life” opponents make it out it be. The reality is that the turnover rate for educators is higher than the national average because many of the lowest performing teachers leave voluntarily.

And while the belief that teachers are overpaid is popular among reformist it should be noted that our stagnation of educational outcomes tracks closely with the drop in pay for teachers when compared with other similarly educated Americans. The data also shows that many of the countries that we trail in educational achievement place a higher value on their educators than America does.

Of course the problems with the Republicans “solutions” don’t stop there. Contrary to their belief unionized teachers do not produce worse educational outcomes, nor do they cost more. Also for a group that is worried about where their tax dollars go and the alleged corruption of unions they seem to completely ignore the growing financial mismanagement among Charter schools or that fact that Charter schools pay their administrators more than public schools. And perhaps worst of all; these “buy American” anti-immigrant fanatics seem oblivious to the massive amounts of foreign funds that are flowing into Charter schools from other countries. Essentially your tax dollars are legally being funneled to foreigners through Republican sponsored Charter schools.

Rather than arbitrarily castigating public employees and peculating tax payer dollars under the false hope of privatization, legislators should focus on changes that actually improve outcomes for everyone like Reducing poverty, using evaluations as a means to identify educators deficiencies and enhance their performance instead of a means to fire, increase parent involvement, incentivize student achievement, increase recess time, and include teachers in the leadership role. Because until politicians educate themselves on what actually improves educational outcomes tax payers will continue to be the mark in this politically motivated game of Three card Monte.

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