Public Education Fails

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We cannot correct what’s wrong with public education using mandatory tests.

The main problem with public education is that it is a political institution controlled by politicians. They have screwed it up, but as usual, they will not admit their own failings and instead blame teachers, students and parents.

I got a pretty good education in public schools, but that was before the era of political correctness and before crackbrain theories began to flow out of colleges of education like odors out of an outhouse.

We did not take standardized tests, and there were no social promotions. Fear of failing was a great motivator. The idea of having to repeat a year sitting in a classroom full of younger children was, ugh, a nasty thought to children of my era. There was also the fear of what our parents would do.

We were not segregated by ability. One of the cruelest things public education has done is to implement the idea of segregating students by ability, or at least by what the school thinks is their ability. That is a system of vicious labeling and does great psychological harm. How would you like to be labeled a "slow learner"?

No, in my day, we all sat in the same class and received the same instruction. Differences were reflected in grades. There always some A students, some B students, some C students, some D students and occasionally an F student. But no one was ever publicly branded. Nor was there any pressure on the teachers to produce uniform results.

Uniform results are impossible because students are not uniform. They are all different. They differ in IQ, general health, family background and genetic inclinations. A good teacher simply tries to get from every student his or her best effort. That is the way it should be.

We have, and have had for a number of years, a generally sorry class of politicians. They are masters of evasion. The real problem, which was becoming public, was the policy of social promotion. Rather than cause a hassle, school bureaucrats had crafted various schemes to promote children whether they learned any of the material or not.

The simple solution would have been to ban social promotion. But to ban it, politicians would have had to admit that it existed, and they were afraid to do that for fear that it would get mixed up with the race question. So they came up with the scheme of standardized tests. Now, because of the incredible pressure put on schools and teachers, most of the year is spent studying for the test.

The problem is, some children just are no good at taking tests. They might be smart. They might know the material, but they don’t do well on written tests. Some kids need more individual attention than others, but under the pressure of the test, there is no time for that. The only intelligent assessment of a child’s progress is the one made by his or her teacher, who has spent a year with the child.

I think public education is so messed up, it needs to be abolished. I would be willing to pay school taxes into a fund that would provide scholarships to private schools for all of the children whose parents can’t afford it. If we abolished the monopoly of public schools, the private sector would provide the educational resources, especially if there was a pool of public money with which to pay the tuition.

The public-school industry — and that’s what it has become — is too riddled with entrenched bureaucrats and too politicized to ever be reformed. It should simply be dismantled, along with the colleges of education, which are hotbeds of claptrap.

Charley Reese has been a journalist for 49 years, reporting on everything from sports to politics. From 1969—71, he worked as a campaign staffer for gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional races in several states. He was an editor, assistant to the publisher, and columnist for the Orlando Sentinel from 1971 to 2001. He now writes a syndicated column which is carried on Reese served two years active duty in the U.S. Army as a tank gunner.

© 2003 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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