Well over half of all local budgets goes toward public education. Our state spends millions and millions of dollars of tax money every year on State assessment development and administration of those tests. Additionally State money is given to school districts to supplement local money. Federal funds also pour into states for education. Of course, all of this money comes out of the same taxpayer pockets. What is the point of all this expense? What is the purpose of education at public expense?
We live in a democracy. In our country every citizen has the right to vote. Some states try to limit that freedom with additional requirements, but still those requirements can be overcome. When everyone has the right to vote, it is elemental to the success of the democracy that the voters be informed and educated. They need to understand government and be able to read to learn about government. So the first function of public education is to create an informed electorate. Based on my experience and the voter turnout, we have failed miserably at that goal.
Another purpose of education is to provide a trained workforce to secure the economy of the nation. Some of that workforce will need a college education to perform their duties. Others will not. Our economy needs multiple kinds of skill levels and all workers need basic soft job skills- like responding to supervision and showing up on time.
Ours is a multi-ethnic society. We need to work together to secure the common good. It is a function of public education to teach us to work with a diverse population. Within a very few years Americans of western European heritage will be in the minority in terms of population, if not in terms of power. If we are going to secure the benefits of the talents of all of our people we need to understand each other and be able to take another's perspective.
So how are we doing in public education after spending all of this money. From my perspective not so well.
First of all we are testing in everything except what is needed to be a good citizen. In Maryland the government test for graduation was scrapped, then added back in. But it is mostly memorization about stuff that is available on our smart phones in a heartbeat. We are not teaching kids to research active candidates for political office, decide which policies fit our needs, how to be educated voters. It does not take a test to do that.
We are now supposed to be striving for a heavy emphasis on college readiness and careers. College readiness was supposed to come about through the testing of NO Child Left Behind from President George W. Bush. But after 10 years, institutions of higher education report no reduction in the need for remedial courses upon entering college. So much for that bright idea. Then there is the issue of careers! How do we train for them. No Child Left Behind promised all kids on grade level by this year. Ok, anyone with any sense knew that wouldn't work. And that goal has all but been abandoned. However, we need to do more project based learning and recognize that we can't force every child into a college mold. Some kids just won't fit.
Finally, our best shot has been exposing kids to other kids who might not look like them. Housing patterns work hard against that. Public schools are neighborhood schools and neighborhoods have a strong tendency to bunch like background people together. Oddly, it is the private school that might be doing a better job of creating diversity.
So here we are, spending a huge amount of money on something we all believe in. Maybe we need a national conversation among the citizens about what we want our educational goals to be. And could we PLEASE leave the politicians out of it this time!