I view schooling, and gain my knowledge and insights, from several different perspectives: I have taught special education for twenty-three (23) years in public schools; I own The Learning Clinic in Cadillac; I am a writer who deals with educational issues; I am a homeschooling parent; I grew up in a family with two handicapped brothers plus a mother who was a special education teacher (until age 72); I do extensive research and reading on these topics; and I taught freshman remedial reading classes at a large state university for two years. I have spent my entire career assessing education from every angle.
I see two primary flaws in education — Illiteracy and Regulations — which have destroyed academic achievement, and wasted decades of financial resources. The solutions to our financial and academic crisis are: a literate population, and the removal of intrusive, excessive, legislation.
If schools had just one responsibility, it would be to teach everyone to read, but our schools are failing to do so. We cannot legislate that ‘every child will read,’ when most teachers do not understand language development and structure; do not understand the reading process; and have never been trained to teach anyone to read. “We can only achieve the goal of ‘No Child Left Behind’ if No Teacher is Left Behind.” Louisa Cook Moats (Book suggestion: Speech to Print by Louisa Cook Moats).
Colleges that train teachers, and send them out into the schools believing they are ready to teach children how to read, are presenting them with fraudulent certifications. School Boards purchase different basal readers, in hopes of finding the series that works — failing to understand that no series will work without skilled, trained teachers. Test scores fall and special education enrollments rise, while textbook publishers eagerly roll out a new basal series. It is important to understand that textbook companies are successful, and earn their repeat sales, when children FAIL to read!
We must train all teachers in effective reading instruction, including those teachers working in alternative education placements and in prisons. Until teachers learn how to teach reading, benchmarks and standards as well as laws and policies will be meaningless. Our schools will continue to fail; money will continue to be wasted. However, with a literate population, spending would be reduced in most areas. Consider a schooling culture with…
- Increased library usage as literate children check out books and do real research, rather than play games on the computers.
- No ‘reading disabled’ children trapped in special education placements. (See No Exit Statistics.)
- Higher educational achievement leading to high school diplomas that are based on merit and scholarship.
- Fewer discipline problem; fewer classroom disruptions; more students motivated to learn.
- No need for alternative education programs or adult education programs.
- Fewer juvenile delinquents, lower crime rates and reduced prison populations.
We must give every child the gift of literacy, so they can give to America, in return. Literacy lifts people and develops self-worth, thus encouraging higher aspirations, morals, and values. The potential gains for the entire state — the entire nation — are too numerous to list.
The federal government now holds ninety percent (90%) control over our schools and for this ‘anti-service’ our schools receive 6.5 cents on the dollar. Michigan, without the vote of its citizens, allowed the federal ‘camel’ to stick its nose under the proverbial tent flap. The beast is now inside, usurping parental decisions and states’ rights. (See 6.5 Cents on the Dollar and the Fed Ed: The New Federal Curriculum and How It’s Enforced book review by Sunni Maravillosa.)
Michigan, itself, has placed too many regulations upon schools. Consider my ‘staff development’ agenda for Wednesday mornings for this second semester — 12 weeks on: Michigan’s 1.) standards and benchmarks; 2.) NCA accreditation; 3.) Education Yes; with one session on “Perceptual Control Theory.” If I could use that time to teach, the children would learn much more. Instead, I will waste time on committees, pretending that benchmarks and standards will raise academic levels and save money for Michigan. They won’t.
That we may again have schools that educate children to high standards, and do it within reasonable costs, I suggest the following changes, some shocking, but all viable and vital:
A) “Just Say No” to all federal mandates and laws, refuse the 6.5 cents reimbursements, and cut all the strings that bind. Save Michigan the burdensome costs of complying with, and policing, the thousands of pages of unconstitutional infringements on local school autonomy.
B) Rescind Michigan laws and maintain only minimal state control over local districts. Return children and schooling to their rightful locations — neighborhoods. End consolidation and thus save money spent on huge buildings, support staffs, lawns and grounds, long bussing routes, and all the expenses of maintaining and driving those busses.
C) Discard the MEAP. It is expensive and takes children from prime learning time. It is not standardized, and scores become meaningless when they can be manipulated and realigned for political motives. If a “1” ranking can truly be earned with a 60% accuracy rate, then the test has become a mockery of education.
D) Close the Intermediate School Districts but assist the rural schools in coordinating expenses in sharing a speech clinician or other needed specialist. It is shameful that ISDs have become so massive, wasting money that could be spent in direct instruction of children, and/or to pay for quality, staff development.
We need to keep things simple and return to that which worked, instead of wading deeper into more ‘progressive’ failures.
“Much of the social history of the Western world, over the past three decades, has been a history of replacing what has worked with what sounded good.
"In area after area — crime, education, housing, race relations — the situation has gotten worse after the bright new theories were put into operation. The amazing thing is that this history of failure and disaster has neither discouraged the social engineers nor discredited them.”
~ Thomas Sowell
Send the Feds away and bring the children home.
1) Write a simple financial aid law that returns schooling decisions and authority to local units. Require that consolidation, at least at the elementary level, be reduced, and then dissolved, within a tight time frame. Allot ‘bonus’ state aid dollars to smaller schools, and double-aid for any child educated in a local one-roomed schoolhouse.
2) Write a simple curriculum law, “Each local school board is responsible for teaching the following topics… and subjects… in the following grades levels …to all children capable of learning.”
3) Write a simple accountability law stating that each local school board must monitor achievement using standardized tests based on academics achievement, rather than the NAEP, Iowa Basic Skills, or any other tests assessing attitudes towards worldview, environmentalism, multiculturalism, vocationalism, or rejection of state and national sovereignty. Base state aid on the percentage of children reading at or above grade-level in each grade. At the high school level, base state aid on the number of students reading at or above grade level plus the number scoring at high levels on the standardized measurements of true knowledge and academics.
You may think there is no way to ‘turn back the clock’ and return to educational methods that worked, but it can be done.
A project focused on bringing Michigan schooling “Back to the Future” will involve hard work and cooperation, with no time for Party posturing, but it can be done.
I believe the countdown on public education — the death knell — if you will, has started. You can find small ways to tweak budgets and save a few dollars, but the underlying causes of the decay in public education — Illiteracy and Regulations — will continue to destroy the lives of the children who pass through the system. Unless drastic steps are taken, Michigan will lose its children and its future, while the federal curriculum destroys American education and national sovereignty.
This is testimony I presented on March 26, 2003 to the Michigan House of Representatives, K-12 Appropriations Subcommittee. I have here added links for most of the handouts that I presented to the committee members, and replaced wording that I had to cut from my original speech in order to present my message within the time limit I had been given.
Linda Schrock Taylor [send her mail] lives in Michigan. She is a free-lance writer and the owner of "The Learning Clinic," where real reading, and real math, are taught effectively and efficiently.